In The Heat Of The Night (1967)
Reviewed on 2007 April 5
Traveling is never easy, but I don’t think too many movie characters had to go through anything as miserable and as simultaneously plausible as Virgil Tibbs. Have you ever noticed the best plots come from the simplest wishes getting denied?
Mr. Tibbs (the one and only Sidney Poitier) is a detective from Philadelphia who simply wants to visit his mother with his precious dab of vacation time. Unfortunately he has to catch a train in Sparta, Mississippi, a town apparently filled with Tennessee Williams’ screwier relatives and patrolled by a police force that graduated from the Bull Connor School of Charm. They mistake Virgil, who’s simply waiting in the train station and probably now wishing to God he’d just flown, for the murderer of Philip Colbert, a prominent citizen. Since it’s set in the ’60s, they have a hard time even believing that Virgil is an officer of the law, and hesitantly accept the offer of skills his boss extends for him. At this point the only thing Virgil wants to show them is the cloud of dust he can make running out of there, but he is a detective, and there is a murder to be solved.
Stirling Silliphant penned an amazing script, with characters that stay eccentric and three-dimensional without becoming cartoony. I can’t think of anything bad Poitier did, and Steiger’s Gillespie is very complex and well-acted. The best part is that nothing is unbelievable, even when it’s surprising.
Three chocolate morsels and an RC in a glass bottle.